Friday, May 30, 2008

My $22 Roast Chicken: a lesson in organic economics

I want to do the responsible thing when I buy my food, I really do. Even though I know it'll cost me a few more bucks I always try to buy the organic choice of produce, meat, etc. I've given up buying steaks at Costco even though they are pretty freaking good and about a third less than my organo-market beef. Wild salmon, not farmed, free range organic chicken, not caged. Farm fresh eggs, blah, blah, blah. But sometimes I've gotta admit it gets kind of painful, even when that pain is unintentionally inflicted.

Here's the deal.... I went to the Thursday farmer's market here in PDX looking for some spring asparagus for some risotto (I'll be doing it next week...I think you'll like it!). Remarkably no one had any, or I got there too late. So a quick regroup was in order. I noticed this nice couple selling their pasture raised chickens at one of the booths. Since my roast chicken is, and I say this only because it's true, the best fucking bird you'd ever hope to eat, I made what I thought was the smart decision that this was dinner. Here's how my conversation wet when I ordered it:

Me: "Hi! Do you have any whole chickens left?"
Farmer Dude: "We sure do."
Me: "What weight are the running?"
Farmer Dude: "I only have five pounders today."
Me: "Perfect. I'll take one!" (then I pull out a twenty to pay for it, knowing I need change to grab some other produce)
Farmer Dude's wife (to Farmer Dude): "Um, honey, did you give him the price?"
Farmer Dude (to me while handing the chicken over): "That'll be $22, please."
Me (while my brain is going "Twenty-two effing dollars for a chicken??? Are you effing kidding me?!): ", okay..........."

So I walk away thinking this had better be the best damn chicken I've ever eaten. I mean I buy some awesome cage-free product at my local New Season's for about $2.79 a pound and they rock. Again, all you read about is how we've got to eat more responsibly and quit buying large farm meat and produce. But at $4.40 a pound, I'm sorry, this was a one shot deal. And if I'm saying that, and I don't make boatloads of cash, this is something that is out of reach for 80% of every day consumers. That is the dilemma of this whole eating responsibly movement. And until this little economic equation changes, it's going to continue to be an uphill battle

The bronzed beauty, perfectly crisp skin, juicy meat within!

So how was it? Pretty good. Meatier, very juicy, chewier than my normal free-range chickens from NS. I have to say, maybe I'm spoiled or some sort of pasture-raised-chicken wimp, but I like my regular free-ranger chicken better. w actually preferred this bird, saying it reminded her of the chickens she had as a kid growing up in Hong Kong where you'd go to the street market and they'd kill the bird right there while you waited.

Oh, and as a final tip for your future eating happiness, here's my secret weapon to give you the tastiest chicken skin ever. Yes, I know it's not organic. Yes, it might have a smidge of msg in it. But man, when you lightly spread some olive oil all over the chicken, then liberally sprinkle kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and a little bit of this "Ancient Greek Formula" (I didn't know the ancient Greek's were down with, live and learn), when that skin crisps up you've got some serious savory goodness!

*** *** ***

The Perfect Weber Roast Chicken

Prepare the grill by filling the starter chimney to almost overflowing with briquettes (I'm a Kingsford guy). Lots of heat is the key here. When the coals are glowing, bank evenly (it helps to have coal separators, available at most hardware stores, to hold the coals at bay) on either side of grill so you can position chicken in the middle, off direct heat. Also, make a catch pan out of foil so the juices don't run into the bottom of your grill.

1 Free Range Chicken 5-6#
1 lemon
Sprigs of rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram, tarragon in any combination
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
Cavender's Greek Seasoning

1-While coals heat up, rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry.
2-Mix together 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper and rub inside of chicken.
3-Cut lemon in half. Push first half all the way inside chicken. Stuff fresh herbs inside of chicken, followed by other half of lemon, cut side facing in. Tie legs together with kitchen twine.
4-Drizzle olive oil lightly over outside of chicken and liberally sprinkle salt and pepper all over (breast side and back side). Lightly sprinkle Cavender's on chicken.
5-After spreading coals on bottom rack and placing foil pan in the middle, replace top grill rack on Weber and place chicken on roasting rack in the middle of grill. Cover with lid. Check back in 30 minutes (chicken won't be done, but you can't help yourself). After about an hour or so, check bird. It is done when you wiggle the leg and it is very loose and moves easily and thigh juices should run clear when pierced with a knife. Skin should be very crisp and browned.
6-When done, bring chicken inside, let rest for 10 minutes, then carve away and prepare for much happiness!


tommy said...

See, now that's just price gouging. I would've handed that chicken right back to the farmer dude. This is my problem with the Farmers' Market. All too often what you find there is boutique food. In theory, a farmers' market is supposed to be a place where farmers with produce and people with money can meet up, cut out the middleman and everyone benefits, financially and otherwise. Like a bunch of roadside farmstands all gathered in one place. And to be fair, many of the vendors at the market roughly fit that description. But where does a $22 chicken fit into that equation? You can get a live chicken for less than that! One that does tricks, even! The price of chicken feed is skyrocketing, sure, but I honestly can't understand how anyone can justify charging that much (and don't even get me started on the $11 tub of mascarpone at the Noris dairy stall).

Don't get me wrong, I like the farmers' market. I go there on a regular basis. I even blogged 'em the other week. But it's starting to look more like a lifestyle event and less like a market. My roommate does some volunteering for them, and he told me a pretty interesting story last year. The market put on a big peach promotion when peaches came into season, where they gave away 500 peach cobblers or something like that. But they couldn't source enough peaches locally, and had to truck some in from, I forget exactly where, I think it was Argentina. When they have to use peaches from another continent to promote local peaches, I can only come to the conclusion that the market has veered pretty seriously off its purpose.

Sue said...

Great blog.

I'm not sure what I would have done. That really is exorbitant.

I always buy local, free range, sometimes organic turkeys, for Thanksgiving. Of course, they're good, but promise you won't tell anyone that the BEST turkey I ever made was a Butterball one about 15 years ago. I still remember the boatload of drippings.

I would never buy one now, but artificial chemical horribleness aside, it was one good turkey.

Sarah said...

Doing good for the earth is indeed an uphill battle. Your $22 bird may be a record-setter, though!

When it comes to pricey organic poultry, I help justify the cost in my own mind by making stock from the roasted bones. When you consider the cost of commercial stock (even the non-orgo stuff), you may come out ahead if you can squeeze a gallon of stock out of that bird. I have a great stock recipe that is--and I only say this because it's true--the best effing stock you'll ever have, and many a bird has earned its keep in my kitchen that way. :)

bb said...

I felt a little gouged but it was my decision to buy. I don't begrudge anyone charging what they have to to make a living. The choice is always ours whether to pay the price, but it was a bit , um, shocking. And I'm sure there are so many people who read about buying locally, organically, etc. who would lopve to take advantage, but when they try to, it is out of their reach financially.

Tommy, your comment about the peach promotion is classic. How did that go so far off the rails?!

And Sue, your dirty little food secret is safe with me....and I'm sure you can trust the thousand or so others who now know!!

tommy said...

Sarah's idea of making stock out of the leftovers is great. Nose to tail, my friends, nose to tail! Granted, one chicken won't leave you with all that much to work with, but you can augment it with necks, feet, backs and wings which are all pretty cheap, even when they're organic, free range, self actualized, or what have you.

When my family gets together for Christmas, there's almost always a turkey involved. I've gotten into the habit of carting away the turkey carcass, sticking it in my freezer, and making stock out of it when I get the chance. This works out very well, because the yield is pretty considerable, and turkey stock tends to be more versatile than even chicken stock.

bb said...

I LOVE making is one of the most rewarding food experiences you can have. The process, the smells....the reward! But I agree that if you are just using chicken carcasses, you HAVE to add some legs & thighs, because otherwise if you use just the bony remains, you won't have the richness you should, because as the meat simmers, it that really adds to the texture and flavor. I follow a recipe from Alton Brown that makes fabulously flavorful stock using a whole chicken that is totally worth the investment..... As long as you don't use a $22 fucking bird!!

Sarah said...

Alton's is good, but I prefer mine:

Whichever recipe you follow, I agree that you need meat stuff in the finished product to have a truly rich stock. And Tommy, I love the turkey suggestion. Next T-giving, I will give it a try.

The Guilty Carnivore said...

A couple years ago my Mom visited for Thanksgiving, and I was making the bird, and I pre-ordered the organic, free-range, Unitarian, Thetan-free turkey from New Seasons, modestly sized, set me back upwards of 30-40 dollars.

My mom complained the whole time about the price, even though she wasn't paying. I did the usual brine, season, roast, baste, etc. The flavor was a bit off, and the texture was weird.

Mom wouldn't shut up about it. For months after she left town, and I'd speak to her on the phone, she'd bring up the expensive, erstwhile bird. The turkey was an albatross around my neck. She railed -- in her annoying immigrant broken English way -- against the conceits of the upwardly mobile generation and their fancy upscale markets.

The next year we went to QFC and I let her pick up a forzen Butterball and she did her usual Asian/umami/garlic marinade of two days, and she roasted it all day long and made gravy, etc.

It was the best turkey I've had in my life.

bb said...

Hey GC...isn't it nice how mom's never forget? Yikes! The stories I could tell....

And a frozen Butterball is a small price to pay for months (years?) of no nagging!